SACRAMENTO, California (VN)—UnitedHealthcare’s Katie Hall has returned to California seeking her first WorldTour race win, hoping to erase the memories of losing the overall in 2017 by one second. Hall has been stacking up her palmares this spring, with form that her domestic rivals from past years have not been able to match. The GC battle between herself and WorldTour riders like Megan Guarnier and Kasha Niewiadoma will ensue Friday for Stage 2 in South Lake Tahoe.
“Losing by one second is pretty motivating,” Hall said. “I think one of the things that has changed this year, has been the changes in my team. Last year, I had a lot of strength but I had a teammate [Ruth Winder] that was stronger than me. I ended up playing a supporting role even though maybe I was ready to play a GC role. I have the full support of my team, and that has made a big, big difference.”
The 31-year-old California native had to play catch up, discovering the sport late. Since signing her first pro contract in 2014 with UnitedHealthcare, she has never raced for another team or director. Success in recent years led many to believe a jump to the WorldTour was imminent. Instead, she has stuck it out with UHC but admits now that her future is open.
“I really like the UHC program,” Hall told VeloNews. “I like racing for our director, Rachel Hedderman. I haven’t ever raced for another director, but I appreciate how she treats everybody with respect. She wants the best out of everybody, gives everybody opportunities. I think she takes her job seriously. I’m really grateful for her direction and leadership, and that’s been a big thing that has kept me in the program.”
Remaining in the program, however, has kept Hall from racing the Giro and other top WorldTour races since her first season.
“I raced the Giro my first year on this team and had no idea what I was doing,” Hall said. “So that’s one that I would really like to race again now that I have a little bit more of an idea of how to race my bike. I was playing catch up then, especially in Europe. I think in America it’s a little bit easier to get away without the peloton skills and the positioning skills that you really need in Europe in order to do well.”
Hall turned to veteran and then teammate, Alison Powers, for guidance.
“I was pretty afraid in the pack when I first started,” Hall said. “Especially starting older, you have a little bit more fear for your own safety. I worked really hard after my first trip to Europe with Alison Powers on my bike handling skills, when I realized how poor they really were. Powers literally tried to run me off the road, and I would scream, but it made me tougher. It taught me to hold my ground and be more comfortable with contact.”
Should Hall make the leap, she would be among a group of past teammates. A glance at the European women’s pro peloton will find many UHC alumni, from Hannah Barnes and Alexis Ryan racing for Canyon/SRAM, to Coryn Rivera and Ruth Winder on Team Sunweb.
Each year the team seems to have a breakthrough season by a rider that earns significant UCI points. The problem follows soon after they move up to the next level, taking their points with them, which prevents UHC from gaining a higher UCI ranking and earning automatic invitations to races around the world.
“It’s been a multi-year problem now where we race for one rider, and they go to Europe with all of the UCI points,” Hall explains. “What’s left on the team is we’re just outside of the bubble of automatic invites which is a bummer. I really think there are some races in Europe that this group of girls this year could do really well at. I think we could show up and help animate the race too.”
Hall admits there is interest from the WorldTour, however, she would not reveal any specific teams or directors. She remains torn between family obligations at home, her love of training in the California sun and terrain, and an ideal racing program.
“What I would really love to do is race in America in the spring, because I love the spring stage races in America,” Hall adds. “Then I would love to race in Europe for the summer, doing all the stage races there. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found a really good opportunity to be able to do that. My family is also part of what has kept me here. I’m married and love to be at home with my husband. Also, my husband works a job here that pays most of the bills. He can’t just come to Europe with me for 8 months.”
For now, Hall remains focused on the short term and the mountains that face her in California.
“If only we could tour California the same way the men do,” Hall said. “It would be really cool because they use some really cool courses. I’m bummed to lose a day this year, but for me, it’s especially a bummer to lose another hard, hilly, GC course. It’s going to be a big day, it’s the one chance I think here. The weather reports look bad, but I think we’ll be alright. I feel pretty optimistic.”